Guide: How to spot a flood-damaged car

If you're shopping for a used car soon, pay special attention to make sure you don't buy a flood-damaged vehicle. Here are some telltale signs.

News 12 Staff

Oct 3, 2023, 8:30 AM

Updated 295 days ago


If you're shopping for a used car soon, pay special attention to make sure you don't buy a flood-damaged vehicle.
Thousands of cars are damaged or destroyed by floods every year, and many are repaired and resold in other parts of the country without the buyer being aware, according to Consumer Reports. Among the warning signs, watch for vehicles being sold with a "lost" title or only a bill of sale.
Water damage can be hard to detect in vehicles. Here are some telltale signs of flood damage:

Musty odor

Check for a musty odor in the interior. Sellers sometimes try to cover the smell with a strong air-freshener.

Mismatched upholstery or carpeting

Inspect the carpets to see whether they show signs of having been waterlogged, such as smelling musty, having caked-on mud or are damp. Brand-new carpets that don’t seem to match the rest of the interior, or in an older vehicle may be another red flag. Check the seat-mounting screws to see whether there’s any evidence that they were removed. To dry the carpets effectively, the seats must be removed and possibly even replaced.


Look for rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals or inside the hood and trunk latches. Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Bare metal will show signs of rust in flooded cars.


Look for mud or silt in hard-to-clean places like the glove compartment, under the seats, underside of panels and brackets, and gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood.

Wiring and lights

Look for brittle wires under the dashboard and fog or moisture beads in the interior lights, exterior lights or instrument panel. A visible waterline may still show on the lens or reflector.

Drain plugs

Check to see whether the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors look as if they have been removed recently. That may have been done to drain floodwater.

Test the car

Turn on the ignition and check that all instrument panel lights illuminate. Test the interior and exterior lights, air conditioning, windshield wipers, radio, turn signals and heater repeatedly. Get the car checked thoroughly by a trusted mechanic.

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